One doctor’s take on Whole30: when the Magic doesn’t happen

I can’t take any credit for today’s post. Pam, a general practitioner from Wellington, NZ, has shared her recent Whole30 experience with Jamie and myself, and then kindly allowed me to make it public. We first got in contact with Pam via Twitter a few months ago. A New Zealand based doctor who is vocal about being anti-grain, anti-sugar and pro-real food? Yes, please, we are very interested! I don’t even know how she went from being from a voiceless Twitter handle to a huge part of our “kiwi Paleo gang” (not entirely sure how a Russian-born Australian got invited there either but they tell me it’s a privilege). Pam is 47 years young and her voice is loud and uncompromising. I have been greatly entertained and awestruck watching her take on conventional nutritionists, media and medical authorities, all in a 140 character format. When Jamie and I announced Whole9 South Pacific she became one of our most staunch supporters. It was only a matter of time before we convinced/coerced her into doing a Whole30. I found her insights particularly compelling because it was not all fireworks and champagne. Her motivation is to improve health, prevent becoming hypertensive and diabetic (yes, believe it or not, doctors worry about this too!). Here is her story.

My Whole30 roundup – When the Magic doesn’t happen

I am learning.  Learning to be patient. Learning to have realistic expectations. And learning to appreciate the value of small changes. I have learned that it’s ok not to experience the ‘magic’ that many other people do when they make purposeful changes to their lifestyles. It is hard not to feel disappointed or that you have been rather unsuccessful when you constantly read of these ‘magic’ stories and personal epiphanies. That is the nature of the beast. People crow unashamedly about their great achievements. And so they should. They have done the work. They should be proud of their achievements and we should share in their success. They inspire others to give change a go. I am happy for them. Really I am.

But what of those who put their very best efforts in and don’t experience that ‘magic’. I am sure there are as many or more who land up in this place. But they are not shouting from the ‘comments’ or ‘discussions’.  What happens to them?  I suspect many give up and slink quietly back to their old habits feeling as if they have failed yet again. I’ve been there. Many times.  Not any more. Part of the reason is that I have accepted reality. There is no ‘magic’ for most people. So, what would have been the ‘magic’ for me? Despite trying to convince myself otherwise, a dramatic weight loss would have been my magic. I didn’t start with health problems that others have had to suffer with. Gluten and dairy didn’t mess with me. I had no autoimmune issues. Just too much body fat. So I guess I could say I had /have hormonal issues! What I did learn was that even if there is no magic, there is hope. And there is certainty that you can become healthier.

My ‘aha’ moment occurred about 9 months ago. A chance comment at a random moment piqued my curiosity. With the world of information at my finger tips I could Google, follow links and find any information I wanted. I could formulate questions and find answers. I found the pathway to the truth about dieting, health and weight loss. I found amazing people and I also found out about the lies, politics, egos and money which have ruled the information about diet and health on which the average person relies on for better health. Information gives you knowledge. Knowledge is power.

So what the heck has all this got to do with Whole30? You may be wondering. It has everything to do with my Whole30. You own your own Whole30. I owned my Whole30 and because of this I got through the 30 days (and continuing on).

Whole30 was one of many plans/programs/guides that I came across. When Whole9SouthPacific put out the challenge and fronted the charge to lead by example, I made the decision to take up the challenge too. The time was right and the challenge was right. I had been eating pretty clean for 8 months. Too clean to bother with Whole30? Maybe, maybe not. In my head I decided to commit. Although the challenge was for January I made the decision to delay starting until after our holiday when I could be fully in control of my environment. We were going to stay with friends and I felt it would not be right to be too picky about everything I could and couldn’t eat ‘because it’s not Whole30’. That didn’t mean that I didn’t come pretty close to adhering most of the time.

Holiday over, time to start. My weight had not changed much for 2-3 months. Maybe up a kilo over Christmas/ New Year and holiday. I wasn’t expecting miracles but I was hoping for at least a small change in direction and getting off the stalled weight loss. In order to become totally Whole30 I needed to quit dairy (had already reduced a lot), no alcohol – not too difficult, no coke zero (a bit more challenging). I had already quit bread and wheat as well as other grains many months before. So that was the ‘leave out’ bit.

Whole30 was also about ‘adding in’ – more food and more meals. I was eating very low carb, not eating even starchy vegetables. I started adding in some pumpkin and sweet potato. I also added in occasional fruit as I had not been eating any for months. And it was berry season. I had to put more effort into having 3 meals a day. I was used to skipping breakfast at times. Sometimes because I just wasn’t hungry and other times just because I didn’t have time. My egg intake soared. Spinach became my ‘go to vegetable’ – I added it to everything where I needed more on my plate.

I didn’t find it particularly difficult to complete the Whole30. I made sure I wasn’t hungry. I also made sure I always had some compliant foods to grab if I was hungry coming home at meal times. A stash of ready boiled eggs, homemade mayo and salad greens made sure I had no excuse to eat the wrong things.

So what did I get from Whole30?

  • I lost about 3kg. I am sure that had I gone from SAD to Whole 30 directly I would have lost double that (the double bit being water loss). I think my clothes loosened fractionally.
  • I don’t miss my wine. I seldom really feel like my latte coffees. Black is fine (as long as it’s not too strong).
  • I am absolutely fine eating more vegetable sourced carbohydrates – very low carb is not necessary for me.
  • Bread does not have a hook out for me. The trick is not to be hungry – making sure I eat enough.
  • I think about sweet things less often and they are less tempting.

Perhaps a lot of this resilience to reverting to SAD food is pure willpower because I feel so strongly that I have to avoid unhealthy food to prevent future health problems. But maybe there is a biochemical change that has occurred and that I really have a true lessening of desire for those foods. Probably a bit of both.

The only Whole30 ‘rule’ I broke was the scales one. I make no apologies. This was MY Whole30 and I had to make it work for ME. I get why the rule is there but for me it wasn’t going to work. In the past when I have lost the scales it has started the slippery slope back to weight gain. I realised that I might not lose weight so I wasn’t too stressed about that. But there was no way I was going to contemplate gaining. I didn’t weigh myself every day. I weighed here and there, maybe 2-3 times a week and in a random fashion. It helped me knowing that despite eating well I was not creeping up the scales. After close tracking of weight for 8 months I can recognise the fact that weight loss is both slow and definitely not a straight-line graph. It is an alpine graph with lots of ups and downs but the overall gradient slopes downwards.

The direct and indirect support of the cyber-community has reinforced my awareness of why I need to stick to the plan. My own knowledge growth has made me realise that having knowledge is only part of the plan. It’s up to me to do the very best I can for my own health. Whole30 provides the rudder, its up to me to steer the ship. The pathway doesn’t have to be straight and narrow but if I lose the rudder, the ship will loose its way. The tighter I steer the more stable the ship.

My message: If you don’t feel the magic, don’t give up. Your health depends on following a real food template for the rest of your life. Give yourself years before you decide real food doesn’t make a difference. Your future health is not measured in days or months.

PS: there are no ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos. It’s not what you look like that tells you whether you are healthy or not. There is so much more to health than a picture. For me the pictures do not speak a thousand words.

Whole30, Goldilocks and evil carbses

Back to posting after long silence.

Things have been downright crazy here at primalmeded/Whole9SouthPacific HQ. Jamie and I have successfully held our first ever W9SP workshop in Cairns. I expect this to be the flashiest workshop we will ever have since it was conducted in the Shangri-La rather than in a Crossfit gym surrounded by pull up bars, chalked up weights and breathing in the sweat the smell of victory. But hey, we can talk to people about nutrition anywhere as long as nobody decided to punch out 20 burpees when they get bored of our ramblings. The Paleo Cafe in Cairns were awesome organisers and they will be conducting a Whole30 in February and we will get to judge the winner. Our next stop is Crossfit Toowoomba which is getting close to being booked out!

Jamie dropping some knowledge bombs to a full house in Cairns

Jamie dropping some knowledge bombs to a full house in Cairns

Me, with my "d'er" slide

Me, with my “d’er” slide

The obligatory glam shot: me and Julianne Taylor from Paleo Zone Nutrition who was our special guest. Post workshop dinner at Cairns marina

The obligatory glam shot: me and Julianne Taylor from Paleo Zone Nutrition who was our special guest. Post workshop dinner at Cairns marina

This post is mostly about Whole30 and random thoughts on troubleshooting. This is my 4th whole30 and yes, I’m getting pretty good at this. Plus I have the benefit of being intimately familiar with the book, knowing the references and also presenting that material. Not to blow my own trumpet but I think it’s fair to say it gives me a little bit of an insight. But in spite of all this, I found myself wide-eyed and amazed at how much I learnt this time around.

A little bit of personal background to put this into perspective. I have been eating low carb/primal/Paleo for over 2.5 years now. I don’t have any medical conditions or an overt food intolerance. Junk food (sugar, grains, processed food) gives me pimples, makes me bloated and pushes me to the sarcastic bitch end of the spectrum. When I eat well I contain my natural impatience with stupidity a lot better. I never thought I had problems with dairy but I have been having less and less of it in the last few months and my skin which was already pretty good improved more. Plus I don’t really miss it. I put on some weight this year mostly due to stress, irregular hours and meals, and sleep deprivation. I have made it my priority to improve those areas in the last few months and was already getting good results. We decided to do the January Whole30 to “walk the talk” (so nobody could tell us “eating THIS way is soooo hard”) and see what results we can achieve with perfect focus.

First the results:

  1. My satiety levels are the best they have EVER been. I used to snack occasionally (i.e. daily) and felt no hunger in the morning, then was practically starving by lunch, and again before bedtime. Now I have 3 full meals spaced out at around 6hrs with some gentle hunger around hour 5.
  2. My energy levels improved dramatically. We go to the gym 3 days a week doing basic strength. On the days that we don’t train we go for beach walks, sprints and short hikes. Instead of wanting to collapse into the couch when I come home and play dead, I actually look forward to getting out of the house and dissipating some pent-up energy.
  3. Strength gains. This year my training has been really inconsistent. I remember thinking at my surgical rotation that the only exercise I get is holding the retractors in OT. Last few months I introduced more gymnastics-style training which I hugely enjoyed. I sustained a minor injury in late December and somehow found myself coerced convinced to take a month off gymnastics and do a strength block instead. Never thought I’d say it but I actually do enjoy it and will introduce some deadlifts (gasp!) into my regular program. Ok, ok, I’m loving it. I have no doubt that having extra energy and good recovery contributed to that.
  4. Body composition. If you are expecting the Before and After photos you are out of luck. It ain’t happening. The water weight and some extra insulation (he he) that I picked up over winter started to shift in the last few months. But in the last few weeks I felt like somebody just pushed the right button. I am leaner with the biggest differences in my stomach and waist. I probably could say more but I am going to stop there. Let’s just say I am very happy with the change.

So what did I do differently???

  • More food. Seriously. I have always considered that I eat a lot “for a girl”. I thought I was tired and apathetic because of work, stress, “I am just lazy”. It is practically ingrained in women that they should eat less than a man. Dishing out dinner I would go with the Goldilocks principles: papa bear meal, mama bear meal and a baby bear. And of course, somehow accurately estimating with a trained eye that my portion should be about 30% less than Jamie’s. This time we decided to run an experiment and fill my plate. So now we plate out a portion of protein about 150-200g each and fill the white gaps on the plate with veggies and fruit. Occasionally it’s too much and I don’t finish it. More often than not, I do.

I had a few people ask me recently on Twitter and at the workshop whether it was 200g per day or per meal which caused me a lot of merriment. Get you calculators ready, doubters!
3 eggs at 11g protein each = 33g (breakfast)
Smoked salmon 150g = 32g (lunch)
Lamb chop = 33g (dinner)
Total around 100g protein a day. I weigh 60kg. Which makes it ~1.6g of protein per kilo. Hardly a huge amount for a young active female. Don’t forget, you have eliminated snacks with “healthy” sources of useless protein, a.k.a. gluten, like Nutrigrain cereal bars. 3 meals of between 25 and 40g each does not add up to a whole lot.

 

Very typical dinner: lamb chop (of course!), sweet potato+orange+pecans in olive and ginger marinade, braised cabbage with garlic

Very typical dinner: lamb chop (of course!), sweet potato+orange+pecans in olive and ginger marinade, braised cabbage with garlic

Just in case you think I used an entree plate. Palm size is a minimum, ladies!

Just in case you think I used an entree plate. Palm size is a minimum, ladies!

So yeah, I lost MORE body fat eating MORE food. Still think calories count?

  • More vegetables. When Dallas and Melissa said “Fill the rest of your plate with veggies” they weren’t joking. When I talk to people about vegetables I normally get this slightly guilty shifty look: “Yeah yeah I know they are good for me…” and the voice trails into the distance. Yes, they are bloody good for you. Eat them. I don’t go into throws of ecstasy over broccoli and bok choy. But I eat it. I am a grown up, FFS. I love how people who dislike them find all sort of reasons to avoid them. I know there are many with autoimmune conditions etc. who genuinely need to avoid nightshades or FODMAPs. But something tells me that it’s all too easy to use that excuse to avoid “boring” veggies. Which actually undermines the distress of those who actually cannot tolerate these veggies. Needless to say, all our veggies are cooked in fat (I don’t just want to chew fibre, I actually want to absorb some micronutrients here). And try not to spot diagnose yourself with intolerance to <coconut, onions,=”” radishes=””> after 1 week just because your gut is not used to that amount of fibre and you feel a little bloated. Don’t blame the food. Give it some time to adjust then reassess.
  • Whole30 Meal Template. One of the mistakes that I see often in the newcomers (and sometimes old-timer paleos) is focusing on Whole30/Paleo-approved ingredients. People tend to forget about the fact that these ingredients still need to add up to a MEAL. So yes, almonds, blueberries and cocoa are technically all Whole30-approved but it is still not a meal. Swapping your protein+veggie lunch for a “light” soup with some nuts may sound like a good idea but you are shortchanging yourself on nutrition and will likely crumble like an almond meal cookie in a day or two. The Whole30 Meal Template does not just apply for dinner (most of us are down with that) but also to your Meal1 and Meal2. We successfully melted a few brains at our Cairns workshop suggesting slow cooked lamb and stir-fried veggies for breakfast. For us every single meal but 2 (caught out at Brisbane airport)  followed the protein and veg (and some fruit) format.
Breakfast: 3 eggs, slow cooked lamb and random veggies. Oh and an apple

Breakfast: 3 eggs, slow cooked lamb and random veggies. Oh and an apple

Work lunch sitting on my lap

Work lunch sitting on my lap

  • More starchy vegetables. Oh boy. I am in the process of actively opening a Pandora’s box and I know it. Let’s get one thing straight: “starches” are vegetables. I am not talking about tucking into potato starch with a tablespoon or sprinkling flour over steak. They are VEGETABLES. Since when are vegetables bad for us? News flash: they have more than strings of glucose held together by glycosidic bonds: vitamins, minerals, nutrients. They are cellular carbohydrate sources (if you haven’t yet read this paper you must!)

For those concerned about their glucose tolerance. The glycaemic effect of a meal hugely depends on its fat content. And if you were a diabetic who decided to tuck in a bowl of plain white potato on its own on an empty stomach your BSL may indeed shoot up. But why would you do that unless you were getting paid by a sugar company keen to sell their low GI sugar? If you incorporate the same potato into a normal size meal containing meat/fish and a decent source of fat to slow the stomach emptying I betcha you will see some different numbers.

But of course, everything is a spectrum. And as much as this applies to the middle of the bell curve there are always outliers. I have seen people get a BSL of 18 after a piece of fish and 10 after a bowl of pasta, making me swallow the pill of humility and bite my tongue. If your glucose tolerance is indeed shot to pieces you may have to watch your sweet potato “allowance”. AND you need to look at your activity level and building some good muscle where you can sink some glucose. If you are bed/couch-ridden you will tolerate less. If you get yourself a decent muscle sink and empty it regularly you will tolerate more.

What I find infinitely more frustrating is not the glucose intolerant individuals who have to have a little less sweet potato because they are sick, unable to exercise, their pancreas is on its last legs and they are trying to minimise the damage. It is those who claim that a piece of pumpkin with dinner sends them into hyperglycaemic coma and goes straight to their thighs but pumpkin gluten-free pancakes/cookies/muffins on the other hand are totally “Paleo”. I’m sorry, what? Sure, I like to let my hair down from time to time, I am not some boring Paleo prune who never has fun, I want to give some treats to my child and help her grow up well adjusted. So I will bake her some nut flour/maple syrup/honey/cocoa concoction but will vilify half a sweet potato? Holding onto paleofied sugar methadone with a death grip will prevent you from assessing your real starchy vegetable tolerance. Those evil carbses might actually work for you if you let go of the dessert addiction.

Argh. Ok. This is turning a little more ranty than I intended. I’ll get off my soap box and stop my preaching. Take from it what you want. There is no need to send me BSL measurements to prove that beetroot gets you higher than cocaine. This may not be you. But I sure do see this a lot from people who then go: “This Paleo thing doesn’t work for me!!!!!! I tried it, was tired all the time, couldn’t lose weight, got weak in the gym. It’s a fad people, get over it”.

Anyways.

Good luck with your Whole30.

Whole9 South Pacific: holy moly!

I like when a plan comes together. It all started with a few jokes over email, continued over delicious meals in Boston and got sealed this November with some very official-sounding paperwork. No, I am not talking about my personal life. This is about a new exciting venture involving myself, some kiwi hunk and a Good Food power couple from the US.

Yes, I am referring to our partnership with Dallas and Melissa from Whole9.

Whole 9 Eventbrite bannerIf you are not yet familiar with their amazing work you are missing out big time (go dive into their blog and get their book RIGHT NOW). I have always been a huge fan of their approach and I am tickled pink that I can now call myself a part of their team.

They have now introduced us as Whole9 South Pacific on their blog and have kindly allowed us to write a post discussing one of our pet topics: socialisation and its role in healthy nutrition. And I cannot believe that they didn’t edit it to spell the word with a “z”. Un-real.

Anyway, Jamie and I are now officially available to run Whole9 workshops in our part of the world. Obviously Australia and New Zealand are high on the list but if there is an eager host in Japan (always wanted to visit!) or Vanuatu (we can run it on the beach!) we are open to ideas.

If you are a gym/cafe owner or Paleo group member and would like to find of how to host a gig send your request to workshops (at) whole9life (dot) com. If you are an enthusiastic whole9/Paleo/primal fan and would like to participate, keep an eye out for our event announcement or better still, start harassing encouraging your local meetup group or Crossfit gyms to host.

And to top it all off, we are happy to announce that the first ever Whole9 South Pacific workshop in Australia will be held in Cairns and hosted by the Paleo Cafe. Spread the word!

Whole9 South Pacific is our new baby but I am definitely not planning to step away from this blog. I will continue to write on random topics that take my fancy and share my thoughts and frustrations with anyone who can understand my slightly twisted sense of humour (cheers to all eight of you).